Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Our neighbor's flag and wind generator are both getting a workout
A long time ago, right after we got married, Deb and I moved to Kansas. I had never been in the vast midwest before and it was a bit disorientating for someone from the hills and ridges of the Allegheny Mountains. As we drove toward Wichita I remember thinking the horizon was impossibly far away and that there was something wrong with the trees. They were all growing with a noticeable lean. When I asked, a native told me it was the relentless wind that was bending them over. I don't think I believed the story at first, wind blowing the trees sideways. Someone, I thought, was pulling on my eastern-bred leg. Soon enough, I discovered there was no kidding involved. Sometimes the wind was blisteringly hot. Sometimes it drove the cold directly into my bones. Occasionally it would get itself all twisted up into a tornado and scour the earth down to bare dirt. Rare were the days when it didn't blow at all. I don't know that I ever got used to it though, I must admit, learning to fly there made me better than average at handling crosswind landings.

It seems like Kansans and sailors should have more words for wind, like the Inuit language and snow. Which got me curious. It turns out lists 22 synonyms for “wind”. Working our way down the ICW too late in the year left us exposed to a North American version of a mistral or two. Right now Boot Key is in a bit of a blow, gusts and flurries swinging the boats around and straining the anchor rode. I would be pretty happy with a few wafting and fluttering winds, but those might not be enough to keep the no-see-ems at bay when the sun goes down. A zephyr usually leaves behind a wish for a little more, as do puffs and whiffs and whisks. Boot Key is a bit too far east to get a chinook. It is curious that “cyclone”, “typhoon” and “tempest” are considered synonyms for wind, but not “hurricane”. I hope to avoid all of them. I could do without a “whirlwind” as well.

A sailor is more likely to use “draft” and “draught” as a noun for “beer”, not a synonym for wind. In addition, “draft” seems more like an inside wind, not an outside wind. I still don't feel like I'm “inside” when I am inside a boat. Under cover maybe, behind a wind break, but never “inside”. Maybe that changes if the boat is bigger?

The Beaufort scale always seemed like a good way to describe wind in ways that are really useful. These last few days have seen Force 5 and 6 winds here in Boot Key, but without fetch the sea state is more Force 2 or 3. But, try as I might, I haven't been able to forge the habit of thinking of winds that way. Maybe I should try harder. Force 6 is a “strong breeze”, a lot more livable than “The wind is freaking howling.” Which has been how I have been thinking of the wind these last couple of days. Mr Beaufort tends toward understatement; not a bad thing at all.

Someone needs to set up a “wind in the rigging” scale, or maybe tag it on to Mr. Beaufort's effort. A moan that sounds like a sad ghost looking for a place to rest? Nothing to worry about, Force 4. The mean-sounding moan of a ghost looking for a head to collect? Force 6, maybe 7. Take in a reef or make sure the anchor is set hard, maybe lay out a little more scope. A shriek that freezes the blood as the hordes spill out of the pit looking for the hapless? Time to get deadly serious in managing the boat or, if the boat is already on a dock, time to be somewhere else and let the insurance company worry about the boat. The goal is to remain deadly serious, and not just dead.

The palm trees are dancing hard in the wind. The water is incredibly murky here.

By the end of the week the winds should ease up enough for Kintala to be under way once again. It is hard not to think of it as the “last leg”, as we are getting near to sitting still for the better part of a year. We will be tied to a dock in a well protected boat yard, the winds inconsequential unless a hurricane targets the Tampa Bay area. Beaufort's scale of winds and waves will be replaced by the boatyard's "making the customer happy" scale. That scale is one I know pretty well from my days of when the customers were CEOs, CFOs, and COOs. Which, given the cost of some of the boats the yard sees, is likely to be the case once again. Those winds I know how to handle. 

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